Academic journal article Child Welfare

Housing Matters for Families: Promising Practices from Child Welfare Agencies

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Housing Matters for Families: Promising Practices from Child Welfare Agencies

Article excerpt

Lack of adequate housing and homelessness makes it harder for child welfare agencies to be successful in protecting children and keeping families together, and has significant cost implications for child welfare systems. As such, getting into the "housing business," through dedicating resources and developing partnerships with housing agencies is critical to the success of child welfare agencies. The provision of housing as a prevention or protective strategy against child maltreatment has not been widely used by child welfare agencies, however. Some child welfare workers have noted that "CPS is not a housing agency" (Shdaimah, 2009, p. 218) because the agency does not control housing resources, public housing agencies do. Recently the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) encouraged child welfare agencies, public housing agencies, and homeless-service providers to "closely collaborate with each other" (Henriquez et al., 2014).

This paper describes what we know from research about the housing needs of child welfare involved families and how barriers associated with poverty and housing instability make it difficult for caseworkers to help stabilize, preserve, and reunify families. Building on previous work (Cunningham & McDonald, 2013; Cunningham et al., 2015), we identify and describe promising practices child welfare and public housing agencies have undertaken to respond to the housing needs of families involved in the child welfare system.


The findings presented in this paper are based on the process study components of two studies. The first study is a quasi-experimental evaluation of HUD's Family Unification Program (FUP), which includes an implementation component. The goals of the FUP program are to increase housing resources for families involved in the child welfare system, minimize or prevent the separation of children from their parents, and encourage partnerships among Public Child Welfare Agencies (PCWAs) and Public Housing Authorities (PHAs). The program provides a housing subsidy, modeled after the Housing Choice Voucher Program, and limited services. Participants use the vouchers to rent housing from private-market landlords. Participants contribute up to 30% of their income toward rent and utilities, with the program making up the difference up to a locally defined rent cap. Our FUP evaluation focuses on two eligible populations: (1) families for whom inadequate housing is the primary factor in the imminent placement of their children in out-of-home care; and (2) families for whom inadequate housing is a factor in delaying the discharge of their children from out-of-home care.

The evaluation includes eight sites: the state of Massachusetts; Salt Lake County, Utah; and the cities of Chicago, Illinois; Hartford, Connecticut; Portland and Salem, Oregon; San Diego, California; and Seattle, Washington. We draw primarily from information gathered during site visits and interviews with key program stakeholders such as PHA staff and child welfare agency staff. In-person and phone interviews were conducted between March and May 2012 and a second round of site visits was conducted in spring and summer of 2014. The research team conducted 58 interviews (in person and by phone) with key staff and stakeholders, including staff from child welfare agencies, public housing authorities, the continuum of care (C°C), and other local partners in each location. For each key informant interview, the research team developed semi-structured interview guides with specific modules for different staff positions and agencies. Topics covered in the interviews included program model (i.e. eligibility, referral process, housing and services), implementation challenges and facilitators, and partnership models and systems change.

The second study is an experimental evaluation of the Partnership to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for High-Need Families in the Child Welfare System. …

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